JAMES 3:2-9

Before I came back overseas, I was resigned to the fact that I would never do it again because of the difficulties I had encountered in Japan. Primarily the communication factor was the biggest problem for me. There is something to be said about the experience of being an adult living in a country where the language isn’t your native tongue. The inability to express yourself, your needs, wants and desires in a comprehensible manner. Forget the PhD or master’s degree you have in your homeland, for get that you have read “War and Peace” cover to cover, twice and could digress on the subject matter. When you don’t know the language, sometimes, you are just, well, screwed.

During the years, between Japan and Taiwan, I moved back home, to Chicago and a few months later, a friend suggested that I check out a course offered by a company called Landmark. Their courses deal with enabling people to see where they are ‘stuck’ in their lives, therefore creating an opportunity for a breakthrough and for that person essentially to get back into the game. One of the courses they offer is on communication. So I signed up for the two day course and waited for a personal transformation.

The idea behind this course in transformation is that we all use communication in some form that isn’t authentic. We use it to be right, to dominate, control, to defend, serve our own purposes, to blame, make others wrong, etc. The day before this course it seemed as if it was already in session. I was having a lot of problems just getting simple things communicated. It last straw was when I walked into a $1 store near my house, to pick up a couple of things. I had purchased a drape rod at Target, and as I entered the store I noticed the store also carried them. So, I checked the price and then moved on to get my purchases. As I checked out, the owner, a Palestinian, was at the register and asked to see my bags with the rod. Of course, I became indignant and defensive because the first thing that went thru my mind was “this man thinks because I’m black, I’m stealing”. Reluctantly, I allowed the man to check my bag, but along with that was a lot of attitude at the end of my purchase.

At home, I began to think about the incident and was slightly embarrassed. I had been not only curt, but racist in my words. And all I could think was that my mother hadn’t raised me that way.

The course began on Saturday finished on Sunday, and then coming back on a Thursday to share our breakthroughs or insights about our newly attainted skills. Monday was a breeze for me. Tuesday was September 11. As I rode the bus home in shock with everyone else, my thoughts went over all that went wrong and how did communication play a role in all this madness. As I arrived at home, I went to that dollar store and apologized to the owner for my behavior. We just acknowledged each other’s humanity in that moment, absent of blame. It was very humbling moment for me.

Back to living in Taiwan, since I am studying the language, my ability to navigate my way thru it all is much better than the first time. But it still is rough at times, especially in those moments when you require that the other person acknowledges what you are trying to get across. I have had so many situations of trying to do something as simple as order food, only to be pushed aside or had to wait extra time because I couldn’t express myself. Or the person went into “oh god its a foreigner” mode or trying to discuss something important with your boss, the office ladies, only to have it messed up and they say ‘it was a miscommunication’ (you’ll hear that a lot here in Taiwan, especially when they don’t want to do something for you) Or the conversation you over hear about you, discussed by two Taiwanese in the elevator. You name it and I guarantee that a foreigner has one good/sad story about trying to communicate. Then there are those time where you have that need to communicate with someone who ‘just gets you’ for that sense of being connected, the rhythm and vibe of a good conversation. Today I had lunch with a friend. He and I talked about his new adventures in gaining a master’s degree in Taiwan. In those moments, I became so present to how comforting communicating can be, and how it can uplift the soul and make you see possibility where it wasn’t before. This is how the experience of living overseas can enhance you. The things you took before for granted seemed to be the things you sometimes need the most, to make it thru this journey.

One of the things I miss the most while living over here is sharing my day. There is a wonderful feeling that comes from sharing part of yourself, and someone willing to listen. I have encountered more people than I care for who love to toot their own horn all in the pretense of sharing, but when it comes to sharing yourself, they seem to turn off the value meter in their head.

When I taught English, my students and I would have conversations about intercultural/interracial marriages. They all believe that they couldn’t work because there was cultural and communication barriers that were too difficult to overcome. But it seems that even when you marry someone from your own culture, race, creed, religion those communication problems are still lurking around the corner. In learning another language I realize that not everything can be translated directly. Therefore, when I need to express myself in detail, I find that I have to see the point of view of the person to whom I am communicating. I have to think about how they express themselves in their language, and sometimes all the right words in the right order come out. Just think how fast we could evolve, if we actually knew the other point of view……….


2 comments on “JAMES 3:2-9

  1. Thomas
    October 11, 2004

    What most isolates me here is perhaps not direct but indirect communication. I cannot hear people just chitcatting about everyday things on busses, in restaurants, etc. What’s on their mind? In the USA I’d hear chitchat about the debates, how the baseball team is doing, boyfriends and girlfriends. Here it’s as if even the possibility of ordinary but reassuring talk is closed off. (Everyday speech is ressuring becaue it preserves the possiblity of direct communication.) I can understand only a few words–but even after my vocabulary gets stronger, what about the tone? I miss everyday speech.

  2. Namahottie
    October 11, 2004

    I know what you mean…I used to have chitchats with people all the time on the train in Chicago. With african americans, chitchatting can be really funny depending on the topic. I figure that most people here are chitchattin about what ever is relevant to their lives, girls-movie/singers boys-girls, housewives-the local sales…i know where you are with the tones, it takes time, but one day, you will have a “aha”moment with it and it will all click..Keep on Keepin!!!

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This entry was posted on October 8, 2004 by in Uncategorized.
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